At the most northerly tip of the North Jutland peninsula and complemented by some of Denmark’s most delicious ‘just plucked from the ocean’ cuisine, fascinating attractions and an excellent range of accommodation, Skagen is just over an hour’s drive from North Jutland’s capital Aalborg. Aalborg benefits from two direct weekly flights from London Gatwick and can be reached in under two hours, making it a relaxingly easy getaway.
Gaining a reputation as a fashionable holiday destination in the 19th century, Skagen became a thriving artists’ colony for poets, writers and painters who were drawn to the area by the unique quality of its light. With the highest number of sunshine hours in Denmark, fantastic stretches of untouched beach and exceptional cuisine, its attractiveness remains equally compelling today.
For a visual exploration into the town’s history and the heart of this artistic movement, a visit to the Skagens Museum is a must. Housing 1,900 pieces of art by Skagen’s artists in the very surroundings in which they were painted, their dramatic canvases capture the plight of weatherworn fishermen, as well as more idyllic scenes of the artists at leisure, providing an enlightening insight into this period. Walking around the restored fishermen’s houses and exhibits on fishery, life saving and shipping at the cultural history museum ‘Skagen By- og Egnsmuseum’ also provides a fascinating look into the courage of the local seafarers and their ongoing battle with sea.
To find out more about natural forces that have shaped Skagen, hire a bicycle and follow the trail of lighthouses out to Grenen - Denmark’s most northerly and ever shifting point- where the two seas of Skagerak and Kattegat meet. Having stood with a foot in each ocean, head to the buried 14th century church Den Tilsandede Kirke (The sand buried church) to see how the powerful migrating sands played havoc on the land. Then stop at the Skagen Odde og Naturcenter on the way back into town to learn more about the shifting sands, luminous light and wild seas. Strikingly designed by world famous Danish architect Jørn Utzon, who also designed the Sydney Opera House, this museum also has changing exhibitions from well-known Scandinavian artists.
For another look at the local architecture, head down to the bustling port and the colourful old fish warehouses that were designed by Thorvald Bindesbøll, who is best known as the creator of the Carlsberg label. Catch the early morning fish auctions or simply relax in one of the restaurants overlooking the picturesque harbour whilst tucking into a delicious Fiskeplatte (fish plate) or traditional ‘Shooting Star’ with fried and steamed plaice, fresh shrimp, asparagus and caviar at the Restaurant Pakhuset; the Skagen Fiskerestaurant or more casual Jollehuset. Alternatively, head out to Grenen to ‘Restaurant De 2 Have’. With views out over the dunes, it specialises in using locally sourced produce and has gained an international reputation for its inventive and superbly presented cuisine. And for those who enjoy specialty beer, stop in at Skagen Bryghus for a guided tour and tasting. Converted from an old power station into town’s local brewery, it also offers reasonably priced meals with all of the Danish favourites.
With a feast of festivals throughout the year, visitors can enjoy a free ‘herring buffet’ every Saturday during July in nearby Ålbæk; eat fish ad libitum at Skagen’s July ‘Great Fish Buffet’ (19 - 20) and local fish auction; or partake in three days of harbour activities at the Hirtshals Fish Festival (31 July - 2 August), there’s also the chance to join over 3,000 feasting spectators as they indulge in the annual Læsø Langoustine Festival (2 August). Get a real taste for North Jutland at Skagen’s Quality Food Fair where local producers tout their wares from 22 to 23 August.
For other less fishy pursuits view the annual motorbike rally - "Træf På Toppen" which attracts over 6000 Danish bikers to Skagen each July (27 - 28); the Skagen Marathon (4 October), Oktoberfest at Skagen Bryghus brewery in the Danish autumn half-term holiday and explore Christmas traditions in the Top of Denmark.
With an excellent selection of accommodation, ranging from the atmospheric Brøndums Hotel, which became the favourite gathering place for the Skagen artists, to the lovely seaside and historic beachside resort of Ruth’s Hotel or the good selection of well-priced pensiones, a good night’s rest is never far away. Uplifting in so many ways, Skagen is an ideal escape for those who want to relax and revive with fantastic food and a brush of artistic flair.